COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - There are a lot of questions swirling around the future of certain hemp products in Columbia and South Carolina.
On July 10th, the Office of the Attorney General in South Carolina issued an opinion back to SLED on how current law allows authorities to move forward in prosecuting those who do not follow state hemp guidelines.
For many store owners, what's being questioned by SLED is something called a “Hemp Flower.”
Hemp Flower is a bud, that has a federally mandated THC content of lower than 0.3%. THC is the chemical compound that would produce a high. Store owners say some people use it for smoking, cooking and health benefits.
“Nobody is going to have any psychoactive effects off of this, ” Megan Burleson, assistant manager at CBD Charlotte located in Five Points said.
The 14-page document form the AG’s office does not have the legal power, but is designed as guidance for SLED on how to move forward.
The opinion requested by SLED outlines a need for clarification on the laws with respect to something called "unprocessed, or raw hemp plant material."
State laws define that to be: “unprocessed, or raw plant material including non-sterilized hemp seeds that are not considered a hemp product.”
Under current South Carolina laws, you must have licenses from the Department of Agriculture to grow, process and handle (including possession) of ‘unprocessed, or raw hemp material.’
The Department of Agriculture says: “SCDA doesn’t license stores to sell hemp. We license hemp growers and hemp processors.”
Current hemp law does not apply to the handling/sale of “hemp products,” which are “processed.” The Hemp Farming Act lays out what falls in that category:
“Hemp products’ means all products with the federally defined THC level for hemp-derived from, or made by, processing hemp plants or hemp plant parts, that are prepared in a form available for commercial sale, including, but not limited to, cosmetics, personal care products, food intended for animal or human consumption, cloth, cordage, fiber, fuel, paint, paper, particleboard, plastics, and any product containing one or more hemp-derived cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol.”
A spokesperson for the AG’s office says much of the opinion leaves the interpretation up to state and local law enforcement on how to handle and prosecute unlawful scenarios. That spokesperson stating that there may need to be a more specific definition of ‘unprocessed or raw hemp’ at a later point in time.
However, in that respect, the opinion to SLED states that: “A court is likely to conclude that possession and handling of unprocessed or raw hemp material without a license is contraband per se and subject to seizure.”
The opinion from the AG’s office says this: “Of course, raw or unprocessed hemp cannot be converted to something else- such as a hemp product- merely by placing it in a package.”
Some stores in Columbia and elsewhere sell “joints” of Hemp Flower. Does that constitute as illegal? This is where the law may need more interpretation, according to the AG’s Office. The office adds that they have not issued a legal opinion on how to proceed specifically when it comes to “smokable hemp.”
In light of all this info, store owners and employees are confused.
“It’s definitely a gray area right now, not really sure where we stand with it, where other businesses stand. What we can and cannot sell whether it needs to be pre-processed, or if we can do it in the store. It’s not set out clear in black and white,” Burleson said.
WIS reached out to a SLED spokesperson on Tuesday for comment on the opinion and further questions, but has not yet heard back. It is also not yet clear what is SLED’s current enforcement strategy.
Currently stores are playing it safe. They are frustrated with a lack of feedback and are waiting to learn more.
“We don’t want to break the law,” Burleson said, “we’re trying to get it out there to the people, but we’re not being given the proper direction on what we need to do.”
One other issue that Burleson mentioned was the concern by law enforcement on whether, or not they can differentiate from legal and non-legal substances.
Columbia Police officials say they have testing to be able to make that determination and they said they follow current code of law as it pertains to related situations.
The legal opinion from the AG’s Office leaves those enforcement answers with the individual law enforcement entities. The opinion acknowledges that the “Hemp Farming Act of 2019 was not drafted with the greatest of clarity and needs legislative or judicial clarification.”